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The Actual Shelf-Life of Chocolate

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Chocolate is a foundational item in my food storage program because I admit, I am quite addicted. Perhaps it is because of the theobromine and caffeine in chocolate but it may be due to the phenylethylamine. Chocolate seriously makes me happy, and I feel good when I eat it.

Chocolate is known for both its soothing as well as stimulating properties. A cup of hot cocoa by the fire, warm chocolate chip cookies, or fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate are always welcome comfort foods in our home.

Could I live without chocolate? Possibly. Would a secret stash of chocolate help me deal with the tough challenges in life? Absolutely!

In this article, we are going to review the best methods to store chocolate, the expected shelf-life of chocolate, and which varieties of chocolate will provide the longest shelf life.

Chocolate tends to be relatively stable in storage due to the unique characteristics of cocoa. Shelf-life refers more to maintaining a quality flavor and appearance rather than to just the amount of time it is still safe to consume. 

When stored under ideal conditions, plain milk or white chocolate will maintain quality for at least 16 months, while dark chocolate has a recommended shelf life of 24 months. The actual shelf life can be significantly longer if packaged and stored correctly.

Chocolate should be stored in an airtight container because it tends to absorb odors easily. An airtight container will also protect the chocolate from environmental humidity which can result in humidity bloom. The ideal storage temperature for chocolate is between 50-60°F with a humidity level between 60 and 70 percent. 

Chocolate needs to be protected from both heat and humidity to achieve the longest shelf life. Improper storage conditions may result in “blooming” that appears as streaking or dusting on the surface of the chocolate. The bloom may affect both the appearance and the taste but is not dangerous.

Heat-Induced Bloom

Bloom may appear on the surface of the chocolate that has been exposed to warm temperatures. The heat causes the cacao butter to crystalize and rise to the surface. The recrystallizing effect is known as bloom. While heat-induced bloom does not affect the flavor of the chocolate, the appearance is unattractive.

Humidity-Induced Bloom

Chocolate that has been exposed to humidity will also bloom but this type of blooming damages the chocolate. Moisture draws the sugar crystals to the surface where they dissolve. The result is an unappetizing gray coating when they recrystallize on the surface. Both the taste and texture of the chocolate deteriorate.

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder is the best option for long-term storage. It has a manufacturer-recommended shelf life of only a couple of years, but the actual shelf life is many years, some claim it may have an indefinite shelf life. Taste test studies demonstrate a palatable difference in flavor after 6 years of age.

Chocolate Chips

I love storing chocolate chips because they are incredibly versatile. They can be used in baked products, melted down for dipping, and eaten straight out of the bag. I usually store my chocolate chips in the original bag inside of a secondary bucket to protect them from environmental conditions.

Bulk chocolate chips can be packaged in Mylar or in a mason jar with an oxygen absorber or vacuum-sealed.

Chocolate Bars

I take advantage of the after-holiday clearance sales to stock up on chocolate bars. I leave the chocolate bars in the original packaging and place them in a bucket.

Plain chocolate will store longer than chocolate that has nuts in it due to the shorter shelf life of nuts. The candy bar shelf-life is limited to the ingredient with the shortest shelf life. A plain milk chocolate bar will maintain quality much longer than a Snickers will.

Chocolate can be safely stored in an airtight container with an oxygen absorber or vacuum-sealed to extend the shelf life. Temperature is critical to extending the shelf life so keep that chocolate cool or frozen.

What is the moisture content in chocolate?

Moisture content is important when we are trying to determine if it is safe to store food in a reduced oxygen environment. Foods that are higher than 10 percent in moisture are not good candidates for long-term storage with an oxygen absorber.

This table shows the average moisture level for each variety of chocolate. All of the varieties of chocolate listed fall well below the 10 percent moisture recommendation threshold. Note that the fats in the chocolate will reduce the shelf life.

Variety of Chocolate (Actual moisture levels may vary slightly by brand)Average Percentage WaterMilk Chocolate1.5White Chocolate1.3Semisweet Chocolate0.7Special Dark Chocolate0.9Unsweetened Baking Chocolate1.34Cocoa Powder3.0Hot Cocoa Mix3.73

If you would like to research this on your own, visit the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Special Thanks for Sharing Her Expertise

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Michelle Lloyd Call Ph.D. who has graciously shared her extensive expertise with us to make sure that we understand how to store food safely. Michelle likes to store her chocolate chips in the freezer for longer storage.

Basically, chocolate is a great candidate for short-term storage of fewer than 5 years if you store it in a cool, dry environment in an airtight container. Repackaging in Mylar or glass jars with an oxygen absorber or vacuum sealing is considered safe due to the low moisture nature of chocolate.

Cocoa powder is an ideal candidate for long-term storage. Package the dry cocoa powder in a reduced oxygen environment by using either oxygen absorbers or by vacuum sealing. Mylar bags or mason jars are great storage containers for chocolate.

Personally, I leave my chocolate in the original packaging and place it in a bucket with a gamma seal lid. This lid allows for easy access while protecting the chocolate from environmental moisture. I will repackage it in mason jars when if I purchase it in bulk. These posts might be helpful to understand how to effectively repackage foods for storage:

How much chocolate should I store?

I’m not sure that I want to find out what life would be like like without chocolate so I keep plenty in my little storeroom. Jonathan eats significantly less chocolate than I do. Truth be told, I eat at least 10 times as much chocolate as he does. The amount of chocolate you should store is a personal question. Just remember that it is a great bartering item for those of us that are highly addicted.

You might be interested in watching this little video that we created showing how I store (and hide) my chocolate stash.

Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones

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